Posts Tagged ‘Harry Davenport’

Beyond the Cover: Books to Film Blogathon: Kings Row

I live in Rolla, Missouri, which is in the south-central part of the state.  1 and 1/2 hours northeast of Rolla is the city of Fulton, Missouri.   Fulton has two  claims to fame, as fame goes.  It’s the place where Winston Churchill, on March 5th, 1946, made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College.  Fulton’s second claim is that in 1940, former hometown boy, Henry Bellamann, published a novel titled Kings Row, which readers in Fulton soon figured out was based upon their town.   The novel angered the community because despite Bellamann’s disclaimer that Kings Row was a fictional place, and all of the characters were fictional, Fulton readers could depict their town from Bellamann’s descriptions, and also the citizens he described.  Bellamann’s novel was about a midwestern town, near the turn of the century, where outsiders perceive it as an idyllic place to live and raise one’s family, but in reality, the town contains evil people, hiding their evil secrets, and where the wealthy families mistreat the poorer ones.

Kings Row sign

After the anger lessened on Fulton’s part, Hollywood announced that Warner Brothers studio had bought the  film rights to Kings Row and in 1942 the movie reached America’s box offices.  Despite the lurid tale, Kings Row was a smash hit, and some film buffs say it contains the best role President Ronald Reagan ever played when he was an actor.  The film was also nominated in 1943 for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography, Black and White. Let’s dive into the film’s plot, shall we?    kings-row-ann-sheridan-ronald-reagan-everett

The film concerns itself mostly with a group of children, ages 10-11, who are occupied with most things 10 and 11 year olds would be occupied with: having fun, playing with their friends, school, and trying to please their parents and/or guardians(two of the boys are being raised by relatives, since both are orphans.)  There is Parris(Robert Cummings), Drake(Ronald Reagan), Cassandra(Betty Field), Randy(Ann Sheridan), and Louise(Nancy Coleman.)  We only see the children for half an hour into the film, and then it jumps ahead to their young adult years, when they’re in their late teens.  When we meet the children we learn that Parris is polite. sensitive, and curious.  Drake is a jokester and thinks he’s a lady’s man.  Randy is a tomboy.  Louise is obedient to authority.  Cassandra is weird and moody.  The change to late teen years brings about the fact that all five are good looking people with varying degrees of wondering what to do with their lives.

Cassandra and Parris

Cassandra and Parris

Randy and Drake

Randy and Drake

Parris has been raised by a wealthy grandmother(Maria Ouspenskaya) who immigrated from the Lorraine area of France.  Her husband began a successful nursery business outside of Kings Row, and she, Madame Von Eln, carried on with the business after she was widowed.  Owing to her ancestry, she has made sure Parris can speak and read and write in French and German, and she’s also raised him with excellent manners.  She has also insisted on his taking piano lessons.  When Parris is a teen, he begins to grow infatuated with Dr. Tower’s (Claude Rains) daughter, Cassandra.  Cassandra is pretty, and seems to be able to only open up and really talk when she’s with Parris.  However, her father is very strict with her and always keeps her at home, even pulling her out of school and homeschooling her when she turns 12.  Due to his actions, Cassandra really has no friends in Kings Row, other than Parris.   Cassandra’s mother(Eden Gray) is considered very odd by the townsfolk, as she never leaves the house, and can be seen in the living room sitting in a chair, or peeking out at passerby’s from curtained windows.  Parris cares deeply for Cassandra, even declaring he loves her.  He and Cassandra begin to secretly see one another under Dr. Tower’s nose; Parris had gone away to Europe for medical school, and came back to Kings Row, to study psychiatry with Dr. Tower’s help.

Mysterious Dr. Tower

Mysterious Dr. Tower

Drake, always the merry prankster looking for love, raised by an aged aunt and uncle, is very wealthy when they pass away and leave him the full of their estate.  Drake wants to marry Louise, but her father, Dr. Gordon(Charles Coburn) a severe man, doesn’t like Drake, thinks Drake is immoral, and tells Louise she can’t marry him.  Louise is too weak to stand up to her father, so Drake breaks off his engagement to Louise and after a while, begins to date Randy, the girl descended from Irish immigrant railroad workers, who lives on the wrong side of the tracks, literally.

Drake telling Dr. Gordon what he really thinks of him.

Drake telling Dr. Gordon what he really thinks of him.

Randy is very likeable, and very pretty.  She is full of common sense, has a good sense of humor, and is a hard worker; Drake couldn’t do better to date  and woo her.  Tragedy hits Drake twice: he finds out an unscrupulous banker has swindled him of his inheritance, and having to work for a living and getting a job in the rail yard, he is accidentally crushed by a boxcar.  SPOILER!!!   When Dr. Gordon, Louise’s father, is called in to treat Drake, he decides to punish Drake for all of his past moral failings and needlessly amputates Drake’s legs!  It is as Drake awakes from his surgery, feels for his legs, and realizes they’re gone, that Reagan’s most famous line was uttered, “Where’s the rest of me??!!”  (Reagan felt he owed so much to Kings Row and that line that he used it as the title to his autobiography.)

Where's the rest of me??!!

Where’s the rest of me??!!

Robert Cummings is winning as Parris, the fresh-faced naive boy turned the same, even as a young adult; naive until he discovers what Dr. Tower did to his wife and to his daughter.  The naivete is gone and  Parris decides to study psychiatry, which at the turn of the century, was a new medical field.

Ronald Reagan is great as Drake.  One can tell by watching Reagan that he was enjoying the fun of the character and that he was probably having the time of his life playing Drake.  A lot of credit has been given to director Sam Wood, for working with Reagan on his part, but once again, Reagan was also from a midwestern state, Illinois, and a small town, so I am sure he could see some of the same points of distinction or similarities the screenplay was bringing out about life in a small midwestern town.

Ann Sheridan is superb as Randy.  Her efforts to display Randy’s character come shining through.

Betty Field is eerie as Cassandra.  She goes about with her eyes wide-open, as though she is expecting a ghost around every corner.  One can feel that Cassandra is living under a large amount of stress, but one doesn’t know why.  It will be revealed later in the plot of the film.

The adults in the film are some of the greatest character actors and actresses to ever grace a film: Claude Rains as the strange Dr. Tower, Charles Coburn as the stern Dr. Gordon, Dame Judith Anderson as Mrs. Gordon, Harry Davenport as Colonel Skeffington, Maria Ouspenskaya as Parris’s grandmother, and, I must confess an unknown to me actress, Eden Gray portrays the reclusive Mrs. Tower.

I don’t want to reveal too many more spoilers for Kings Row, but I will say that after all the evil deeds are exposed and the topic of mental illness is discussed,  there is a happy ending, or at least a hopeful ending!!  Turner Classic Movies will be airing Kings Row next week on Tuesday, April 12, at 8:00 est/7:00 cst.   The film is also available to view on Amazon’s instant rent and there are various clips on Youtube, but not the entire film.

I decided to read Kings Row prior to writing this blog, and went to Rolla’s library 3 weeks ago to get the book.  Alas, it wasn’t available so I ordered it through their interlibrary loan program, and 2 weeks later, Kings Row arrived for me, coming in from Sedalia, Missouri’s library.   I have read 1/3 of  the book and it is a good read.  Bellamann wrote a very descriptive picture to give the reader a mental image of Fulton, er Kings Row.  There are a lot of characters and good character development in the book, but as is so often when a book is turned into a film, many of the characters in the book were cut from the film’s screenplay.  Some of the  taboo topics in the book didn’t make the screenplay either due to the Hays Code: premarital sex, homosexuality, and incest.  The topics of mental illness, sadistic malpractice, murder, and suicide were acceptable for the screenplay.

Many have speculated as to why Henry Bellamann would have written such a negative novel about his hometown.  There are several theories, but at last, Fulton seems to have accepted it’s place in literary and film history.  Here’s a link to an interesting piece I read about the book and the film from a 1987 article in the  LA Times.

My post today is for the Beyond the Cover: Books to Film Blogathon, hosted by two excellent bloggers who know their classic movies: Ruth at Now Voyaging and Kristina at Speakeasy.  Be sure to visit their blogs to read about other bloggers contributions in the world of literary art being turned into visual art via film.

Beyond the Cover

Advertisements

My Classic Movie Pick: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

With the recent passing of child star Shirley Temple, I decided that my classic movie pick would be one of her films, but one near the end of her acting career, not one from the beginning or the middle.

TBATBS screen opener

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a romance/comedy, made in 1947 by RKO Studios.  This delightful movie features an excellent cast: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple, Rudy Vallee, Harry Davenport, Ray Collins, and Johnny Sands.  It was directed by Irving Reis, produced by Dore Schary, and the original screenplay was written by Sidney Sheldon.  Sheldon did win the Academy Award for best writing, original screenplay for this movie, in 1948.  

The plot is basically a romantic triangle, but only two sides of the triangle are really interested in one another.  The third side of the triangle can’t see that, and therein lies the comedic elements  of the plot.    Cary Grant is Dick Nugent, an artist and a playboy.  The movie opens with he and 3 girlfriends in a courtroom facing Judge Margaret Turner, who is of course, played with steely-eyed seriousness by Myrna Loy.  She is calm, yet is not in the mood to hear about all of the gory details as to why Mr. Nugent and his 3 friends were arrested for brawling in a Los Angeles nightclub.  She issues them a stern warning and then dismisses the case.

Getting his case dismissed

Getting his case dismissed

As the day moves on, Dick has to appear at a high school and give a speech  for a Career Day type of assembly.  As he gives his speech, one of the teen girls in the audience, Susan Turner(Shirley Temple) suddenly imagines that Dick is a knight in shining armor and she is at that minute struck with “love” for him.   She begins to plan a way to be with him and decides to corner him for an interview in the school newspaper.    When Susan gets home she tells her sister,  Judge Margaret,  who is her legal guardian, that she is in love and it’s  not with some juvenile youth like her current boyfriend, Jerry(Johnny Sands).  Margaret scoffs at Susan’s “love” and tells her to go to bed.  The wily Susan will not be deterred on her quest to find this new love so she  dresses herself to look older and then sneaks out to find Dick’s apartment.  She manages to get into his apartment but he’s not home, so as she waits for him to return, she falls asleep on his couch.    Big sister Margaret, as the evening progresses, realizes that Susan isn’t in her bed sleeping so she and her boyfriend, the assistant District Attorney Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee) figure out where Susan has gone and burst into Dick’s apartment just as he is finishing up a conversation with Susan.  He arrived home right before Margaret and Tommy ‘s arrival, and is confused by their entry.  Margaret is distraught at finding Susan in a man’s apartment, Tommy accuses Dick of nefarious doings and gets socked in the jaw.  This leads to Dick’s arrest and spending the rest of the night in a Los Angeles jail.   In the morning, Dr. Beemish(Ray Collins), a court psychologist, visits with Dick in jail and gets his side of the story.  He believes that Dick is innocent of trying to seduce a teenage girl and tells Margaret and Tommy that he has a plan that will cure Susan of her “love” for Dick.  Dick must “date” Susan, probably only a couple of dates, but these dates will cause Susan to give up her “love” for an older man.

The Knight in Shining Armor!

The Knight in Shining Armor!

Susan telling Margaret about her new love

Susan telling Margaret about her new love

Susan on Dick's couch

Susan on Dick’s couch

Hearing Dr. Beemish's Plan

Hearing Dr. Beemish’s Plan

The dating scheme, only known by Dick, Margaret, Tommy, and Dr.  Beemish(who is also Margaret and Susan’s Uncle Matt) is hilarious and it only adds to the screwball element of this comedy.  During one of the dates at a neighborhood picnic complete with sack races and other silly sporting events, Judge Margaret suddenly sees Dick in a suit of shining armor as he receives a trophy for winning one of the contests.  Enter the real love story of this romantic triangle!  Now it is up to Dick and Margaret to find  a way to begin their romance without hurting Susan or Tommy, and more laughs ensue.  The climax of the film happens at a fancy restaurant where Dick and Margaret are trying to enjoy their date, only to have Susan and Jerry, the 2 Uncles, Tommy, and the lady brawlers all converging  at the same restaurant!   There is a happy ending, of course, how could there not be?

Cary Grant is his charming self, great at playing comedy with his facial expressions hinting at the confusion his character feels and also adept at the physical comedy, especially apparent at the picnic scenes.   Myrna Loy is great as the cold, serious-minded judge who starts to soften and become human when she is around Grant’s character.   Shirley Temple is also wonderful, as the 18 year old high school girl who thinks boys her age are so immature and that she knows what real love is.  Rudy Vallee, Ray Collins, and Harry Davenport(as Judge Thaddeus Turner-another Uncle of Margaret and Susan’s), and Johnny Sands handle  their supporting roles with skill and aplomb.

For a very funny movie, with that sweet touch of romance  perfect for Valentine’s Day, seek out The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer.  Turner Classics will be airing it on Sunday, March 9th at 12:45 EST/11:45 pm CST as part of their 8 film tribute to the movie career of Shirley Temple, who passed away recently on February 10th.  Here is a link to TCM’s site about the  planned tribute to Shirley Temple and the other films that will be shown.

The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer is available to buy at TCM, at Amazon(which also has it out for instant rent), and it’s available on Netflix.  I’ll close this post out with some fun posed stills for the movie’s made by RKO’s publicity department.  TBATBS screen pose 1TBATBS screen pose 3TBATBS screen pose 4